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Phase II: Regional expansion

Xishuangbanna, Yunnan Province, China

Narrative mural painting in lcoal temple

Project overview and objectives
Local Tai Lue culture, especially Buddhist culture was politically repressed from the 1950s up to the late 1970s. Consequently most traditional arts and crafts, and especially Buddhist arts and crafts were suffered. Not only were many of the traditional works and temples destroyed or lost, but the influence of mainstream Han culture, together with modernization, fostered a low level of awareness among local Tai Lue of the value of their traditional culture and the need to preserve it. Finally, during this period of political repression, there was no transmission of knowledge and skills from the older masters to the younger generation. By the 1980s, when Buddhist began to experience a revival, many of the older masters had died or were too old to pass on their skills. Consequently, during the Buddhist revival, most of the new temples and stupas were constructed using modern techniques and materials. The high quality craftsmanship of many of the traditional Buddhist arts, for example, mural painting and making Buddha images, was lost.

The larger goal of this project in Xishuangbanna site is to integrate a training center for the documentation, education and training of the traditional decorative arts and building crafts into the Sangha and Buddhist temple community of the Xishuangbanna, and by doing so to revitalize the traditional Buddhist arts and crafts.  A workplan was developed incorporating the main actions including training, training of trainers, documentation, and awareness-raising which mobilize the local community. 

This project will be implemented within the temple complex of Vat Bajay by making use of the traditional knowledge and resources found among the local population of the Xishuangbanna.  A provincial level school has already been founded within the temple complex of Vat Bajay which teaches Buddhism studies including religious texts, Pali, history, traditional Tai Lue Culture, etc. The primary activities at Xishuangbanna site has been so far focused on documentation of the existing traditional temple arts and crafts, traditional crafts masters, and recently crafts training based on the curricula resulting from the documentation work.
The primary objectives of this project are similar to those found at other participating sites, however, with substantial activities on documentation.

  • Document existing examples of Buddhist temples and traditional Buddhist arts and temple crafts;
  • Identify and document traditional masters who are still living;
  • Revive training in the traditional Buddhist arts and crafts; and
  • Raise the awareness of the local Tai Lue lay and religious communities with regard to the value of their traditional Buddhist culture.

Project output to date
Systematic documentation work began during Cycle 2 (March through August 2006). Forms were created in the Tai Lue, Chinese and English languages. A small team has begun to document the temples, temple arts and crafts, and masters.

A computer database, which will store the information collected during documentation, is being set up, and will be completed by October 2006. The database will serve as a depository of knowledge of Buddhist arts and crafts, and will also be used to develop training materials. The database is designed to include both textual and visual materials, and will have English, Chinese and Thai capability. At the moment, there is no software for the Tai Lue script. However, there are other people working on this problem, and when it is available, the fonts will be added.

Activities to raise the awareness of the local people with regard to the importance of their traditional culture, and especially of their Buddhist culture, have begun. The project has taken advantage of the local public media, for example, spots on radio, TV and newspapers. T-shirts and brochures have been designed and produced, and are currently distributed at a number of Tai Lue-owned guest houses, restaurants and bars. Some initial awareness raising activities have begun on the community level. Plans are in progress for establishing an association aimed at organizing and coordinating project activities within the structure of Wat Bajie. This association will highlight the work of the project, and can be used as a base for carrying out awareness raising activities.

A pilot training for approximately 40 young monks was set up to take place during Watsaa, the Buddhist Lent, which lasts from July to October. The training is focusing on three traditional arts: (1) wall painting; (2) stencil decoration; and (3) clay modeling. Three older masters were identified who agreed to provide the training. The training is including basic artistic skills coupled with some study visits to those local temples which reflect higher levels of artistic skill. The majority of trainees came from Jinghong where Vat Bajie has been established as a project training center.